Category Archives: trails|sierra

Hitting the (Big) Hills of Southern California

Comparison of Whitney (Trail), San Gorgonio (Vivian Creek) and San Jacinto (Devils Slide)

Updated November 12, 2014. Added Register Ridge on Mt. Baldy and the Siberia Creek Trail in Big Bear.

Southern California is noted for its foothills and mountains. It’s so hilly here that most trail runs have at least one good climb. Even if you aren’t a high mileage runner, the elevation gained on those hills can add up fast. So far this year SportTracks puts my cumulative elevation gain at about 320,000 feet.

I was curious to see how some of the “hills” in Southern California compare, so I wrote a Flash application that interactively displays the elevation profiles of a selection of SoCal ascents. Generally trails were picked that could be done in day from L.A. The selection includes some East Side Sierra ascents, routes up most of the major Southern California peaks, and some hills from some Southern California races.

The profiles and other stats are based on DEM corrected data from GPS tracks. All distances, elevations, elevation gains and elevation profiles are approximate. Elevations have been corrected and elevation gains (conservatively) calculated using SportTracks.

The Flash app is loading a lot of data, so it may take a while to load. The app is best viewed on a desktop, laptop, or tablet. It can’t be viewed on an iPad/iPhone unless a browser that supports Flash, such as Photon, is used. Here is the updated selection of elevation profiles and the selection from 2012. The “Fit Selected” button is used to fit the chart to the currently selected set of elevation profiles. The “Fit Elev/Distance” button is used to format the chart according to user specified elevations and distances.

In this selection of hills Cactus to Clouds is the longest (14.7 miles) and has the most altitude gain (10,812 feet). Register Ridge on Mt. Baldy has the steepest mile (1745 fpm) and is the steepest overall (1127 fpm). Mt. Whitney has the highest finishing elevation (14,505 feet).

Following are some additional details about each of the ascents, including the length of the climb, elevation gain, average gradient and steepest mile. The distance specified is just for climb described — not the entire run. The headings below are the shorthand name of the climb used in the legend of the app.


Mt. Whitney via the trail from Whitney Portal.
Distance: 10.5 mi – Gain: 6657 ft – Avg Gradient: 632 fpm – Steepest Mile: 900 fpm @ mile 4.5

Requires permit. The 1991 Los Angeles Times story about Marty Hornick’s 2:08:30 ascent of Whitney via the Mountaineers Route mentions a 2:17 time via the trail. According to the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group’s Talus Pile December 2002, Issue # 126, Jason Lakey did the roundtrip via the Mountaineer’s Route in a record 3:10:07.

Related post: East Face Mt. Whitney, Tower Traverse


Mt. Langley via Army Pass from Horseshoe Meadow Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead.
Distance: 10.2 mi – Gain: 4161 ft – Avg Gradient: 408 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1275 fpm @ mile 8.8

Army Pass is often choked with snow. New Army Pass is used as an alternative. Last couple of miles is on use trails and depending on your route could involve a little scrambling.

Related post: Mt. Langley in a Day from L.A.

New Army Pass

New Army Pass from Horseshoe Meadow Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead.
Distance: 8.4 mi – Gain: 2409 ft – Avg Gradient: 274 fpm – Steepest Mile: 617 fpm @ mile 7.4

Related post: New Army Pass – Cottonwood Pass Loop


Olancha Peak via the Sage Flat Trail and “cow driveway”.
Distance: 9.2 mi – Gain: 6213 ft – Avg Gradient: 676 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1437 fpm @ mile 8.2

Last mile or so to the summit is not on a trail and involves some scrambling up rocks.

Related post: Olancha Peak Sierra Panorama

Kearsarge Pass

Kearsarge Pass from Onion Valley.
Distance: 4.9 mi – Gain: 2610 ft – Avg Gradient: 531 fpm – Steepest Mile: 641 fpm @ mile 1.0

Various runs can be done from the pass.

Related post: Up and Over Kearsarge Pass

High Line

Mt. San Gorgonio via Momyer and San Bernardino Divide Trail.
Distance: 15.0 mi – Gain: 7146 ft – Avg Gradient: 478 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1119 fpm @ mile 4.0

Requires permit. Total distance starting/ending at Momyer is about 26 miles.

Related post: San Gorgonio High Line 2009


The Momyer Trail to the San Bernardino Divide Trail.
Distance: 7.1 mi – Gain: 5023 ft – Avg Gradient: 707 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1119 fpm @ mile 4.0

Requires permit. Once up to the San Bernardino Divide Trail there is a choice of around ten peaks over 10,000′.

Related post: San Gorgonio High Line

Falls Creek

Mt. San Gorgonio via Momyer and Falls Creek Trails.
Distance: 15.0 mi – Gain: 6397 ft – Avg Gradient: 481 fpm – Steepest Mile: 872 fpm @ mile 1.7

Requires permit. Total distance starting/ending at Momyer is 24 miles.

Related post: San Gorgonio Mountain – Falls Creek Loop 2011

Vivian Creek

Mt. San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek Trail.
Distance: 9.4 mi – Gain: 5464 ft – Avg Gradient: 585 fpm – Steepest Mile: 920 fpm @ mile 7.7

Requires permit. This is the descent route for High Line and Falls Creek loops.

Cactus to Clouds

Mt. San Jacinto via the Skyline Trail, Round Valley Trail and San Jacinto Peak Trail.
Distance: 14.7 mi – Gain: 10812 ft – Avg Gradient: 736 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1499 fpm @ mile 7.3

Requires permit. The biggest hill in Southern California.

Devils Slide

Mt. San Jacinto from Humber Park via Devils Slide Trail, PCT and San Jacinto Peak Trail.
Distance: 7.8 mi – Gain: 4407 ft – Avg Gradient: 566 fpm – Steepest Mile: 716 fpm @ mile 2.9

Requires permit.

San Jacinto

Mt. San Jacinto from the Long Valley Tram Station via the Round Valley Trail and San Jacinto Peak Trail.
Distance: 5.4 mi – Gain: 2520 ft – Avg Gradient: 470 fpm – Steepest Mile: 709 fpm @ mile 4.4

Requires permit.

Related post: Summery San Jacinto, Smoky Tahquitz Peak

Baldy South Ridge

Mt. Baldy from the Village via Bear Canyon and South Ridge on the Old Mt. Baldy Trail.
Distance: 6.8 mi – Gain: 5811 ft – Avg Gradient: 850 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1273 fpm @ mile 2.1

Related post: Up & Down Mt. Baldy’s South Ridge

Baldy Run to the Top

Mt. Baldy from base of ski lift parking lot.
Distance: 6.9 mi – Gain: 3868 ft – Avg Gradient: 558 fpm – Steepest Mile: 799 fpm @ mile 4.9

Last 0.6 mi to summit is approximately 1090 fpm.

Related post: Mt. Baldy Run to the Top 2009

Baldy Ski Hut

Mt. Baldy from Manker Flat via the Baldy Bowl Trail — aka the Ski Hut Trail.
Distance: 4.4 mi – Gain: 3883 ft – Avg Gradient: 891 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1201 fpm @ mile 2.8

Related post: Back to Baldy

Baldy Register Ridge (New)

Mt. Baldy from Manker Flat via the Register Ridge Trail.
Distance: 3.5 mi – Gain: 3909 ft – Avg Gradient: 1127 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1745 fpm @ mile 0.9


Mt. Baden-Powell from South Fork Campground via Manzanita Trail and PCT. Vincent Gap is at about mile 5.75.
Distance: 10.0 mi – Gain: 5074 ft – Avg Gradient: 510 fpm – Steepest Mile: 805 fpm @ mile 8.6

Part of a 23.5 mile loop from Islip Saddle

Related post: San Gabriel Mountains Running Adventure

Siberia Creek (New)

The Siberia Creek climb starts at Bear Creek and climbs to Forest Service Road 2N11 via the Siberia Creek Trail and a short segment of the Champion Lodgepole Trail. It is part of the Kodiak 100M and 50M courses.
Distance: 6.9 mi – Gain: 3008 ft – Avg Gradient: 435 fpm – Steepest Mile: 698 fpm @ mile 1.4

Related post: Kodiak 50 Mile 2014

Holy Jim

Holy Jim Trail from Trabuco Canyon to Santiago Peak. Was part of Twin Peaks 50K.
Distance: 8.0 mi – Gain: 3921 ft – Avg Gradient: 489 fpm – Steepest Mile: 691 fpm @ mile 5.3

Related post: Blue Skies and Sunshine for the 2010 Twin Peaks 50K & 50M Trail Runs

Wilson Trail

Mt. Wilson from Sierra Madre via the Mt. Wilson Trail. Orchard Camp is at about mile 3.5.
Distance: 7.1 mi – Gain: 4720 ft – Avg Gradient: 662 fpm – Steepest Mile: 925 fpm @ mile 4.0

Edison Road (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Edison Road from the West Fork San Gabriel River to Angeles Crest Highway at Shortcut Saddle. Part of Mt. Disappointment 50K.
Distance: 5.5 mi – Gain: 2027 ft – Avg Gradient: 372 fpm – Steepest Mile: 520 fpm @ mile 3.3

Related post: Mt. Disappointment 50K 2011 Notes

Kenyon Devore

Gabrielino and Kenyon Devore Trails from West Fork to Mt. Wilson. Part of Mt. Disappointment 50K.
Distance: 4.9 mi – Gain: 2622 ft – Avg Gradient: 532 fpm – Steepest Mile: 801 fpm @ mile 1.9

Related post: Trail Work and Tree Rings

SaddlePeakMalibuCyn (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Saddle Peak from Piuma Road near Malibu Canyon via the Backbone Trail.
Distance: 6.3 mi – Gain: 2350 ft – Avg Gradient: 372 fpm – Steepest Mile: 680 fpm @ mile 4.9

Related post: Bulldog Loop or Saddle Peak Out & Back?


Bulldog Lateral and Motorway from Crags Rd. to Castro Motorway. Part of Bulldog 25K/50K, XTERRA Malibu Creek Challenge and other races.
Distance: 3.4 mi – Gain: 1727 ft – Avg Gradient: 514 fpm – Steepest Mile: 732 fpm @ mile 2.0

Related post: Bulldog 50K 2010 Notes

CorriganvilleRockyPk (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Corridor Trail from Corriganville to Rocky Peak Rd. Then Rocky Peak Rd to high point near Rocky Peak. Part of Bandit 15K/30K/50K. Does not include initial loop in Corriganville. 50K descends to Santa Susana Pass.
Distance: 3.3 mi – Gain: 1547 ft – Avg Gradient: 464 fpm – Steepest Mile: 836 fpm @ mile 0.6

Related post: Bandit 30K 2009

SantaYnezEagleRock (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Eagle Rock from Vereda De La Montura via the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail, Musch Trail and East Topanga Fire Road.
Distance: 5.6 mi – Gain: 1292 ft – Avg Gradient: 230 fpm – Steepest Mile: 643 fpm @ mile 1.0

Related post: Clouds, Canyons and Wildflowers

TemescalBackbone (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Temescal Canyon to the Backbone Trail Junction via Temescal Canyon and Temescal Ridge Trails.
Distance: 5.4 mi – Gain: 1709 ft – Avg Gradient: 318 fpm – Steepest Mile: 760 fpm @ mile 0.8

Related post: Will Rogers – Temescal Loop

Las Llajas (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Las Llajas Canyon from near Evening Sky Drive to high point above oil field. Part of Bandit 30K/50K
Distance: 4.9 mi – Gain: 1418 ft – Avg Gradient: 290 fpm – Steepest Mile: 625 fpm @ mile 3.1

Related post: Bandit 50K 2011 Notes

September Snow Run

San Joaquin Ridge, September 2014

With this year’s El Nino developing in fits and starts and drought-plagued California clinging to hopes of an above average snowpack, a little September snow is a big deal, even if it’s just a dusting.

The first low pressure system of Fall resulted in significant rain in many areas of Central and Northern California, with amounts falling off quickly to the south. According to the NWS, Redding recorded over 3 inches of rain; Red Bluff nearly 2.5 inches; South Lake Tahoe 1.8 inches; Downtown Sacramento and San Francisco both recorded about 0.5 inch.

For a rain-starved, heat-desiccated Southern Californian it was great to get out and play in the snow. I had a window of about three hours to do a run and the run/hike up San Joaquin Ridge from Minaret Summit was superb!

Here are a few photos from the run.

Whiskey Flat Trail Burger & Double Burger Run & Trek 2013

Runner on the Whiskey Flat Trail during the 2013 Burger Run

I heard it several seconds before I saw it, a sound like thunder rumbling in the distance, but rapidly growing in strength and intensity as it moved up the rugged river canyon.

I had just completed the mile-long climb that follows the Ant Canyon creek crossing and started the descent from the high point of the Burger Run course. The roar stopped me in my tracks — I did not want to miss sighting one of the fighter aircraft that fly through this canyon.

The weather was as good for flying as for running, mostly clear blue skies with only a tatter of cloud over the mountains. I looked in the direction of the growing sound, but had looked too high. The twin-engine fighter was at eye-level and over the river about a half-mile away.

At Fairview — where the Burger Run ends — the Kern River canyon narrows, with 2500′-3000′ tall mountain ridges closing in on the left and right. It would take me at least 30 minutes to get to the finish, but spellbound I watched as the jet covered the distance in three or four seconds. Approaching the cul-de-sac, the pilot added power, pulled back on the stick and in a steep, climbing turn pulled up and over the rocky ridge on the right, continuing the corkscrewing turn into a roll. Sigh…

Last year a spectacular rainbow had spanned the canyon; this year we’d been treated to a dramatic low level flyby. Whether you come for rainbows, fighter jets, the challenging terrain, or the superb views of the mountains and river, a hike or run of the Whiskey Flat Trail is an outstanding adventure.

The Run-4-A-Way Burger Run & Trek starts at the Burlando Trailhead in Kernville and follows the single track Whiskey Flat Trail up Kern River’s rugged canyon to Johnny McNally’s Fairview Lodge and Restaurant. As the 14.5 mile trail works up river it crosses a series of tributary canyons and ridges, gaining more than 2100′ and losing at least 1300′. It challenges the runner, and most take longer than expected the first time they run (or hike) it. Those seeking even more adventure can do the Double Burger option — starting at Fairview, running to Burlando, and then returning to Fairview.

The annual run and trek is organized by Mike Lane of Run-4-A-Way, a local non-profit group dedicated to enhancing the fitness and well-being of the local youth. Proceeds from the 2013 event will help the Kern Valley High School “Lady Broncs” soccer team with equipment and other expenses. Many thanks to Mike for organizing the event and to the Lady Broncs who managed the Burger Run & Trek aid station.

Some related posts: Whiskey Flat Trail Burger & Double Burger Run 2012, Whiskey Flat Trail Burger Run 2011

Related video: F-16 Auto-GCAS Demonstration Flight from Owens Dry Lake, into the Sierra, and down the Kern River.

Following are a few additional photos from the run. Click for a larger image:

Race Meeting

Steep Ascent

Steep Descent

Aid Station

Salmon Buttress & Falls


Cottonwood Pass – New Army Pass Loop 2013

View east past High Lake from the switchbacks below New Army Pass

The Cottonwood Pass – New Army Pass loop is one of the best 20+ mile mountain trail runs that can be done as a day trip from L.A. You don’t have to get up any earlier than for a local race, and even if you want to get back to the city by 8:00 pm or so there’s still time to enjoy the sights and serenity of the high mountains.

The monsoon has been active this Summer and more than once I postponed this run because of a threat of thunderstorms. As late as midday yesterday (Friday) the forecast had been for increasing clouds and a chance of thunderstorms, as the moisture from Tropical Storm Lorena was drawn into the area.

It may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth waiting for good weather to do this run. The views aren’t that great from inside a cloud, and there’s enough going on that you might as well try to eliminate the complications poor weather can create. I always try to carry enough to get by if things go sideways. You can’t avoid all risk, but you can be smart about the risks you take. Decades of climbing, kayaking and skiing adventures have shown me both sides of that adage.

This time I hoped the weather would cooperate. With a race on the schedule for September 21, and allowing for taper and recovery, it looked like today might be my last chance to do the Cottonwood loop this year. The main influx of moisture wasn’t expected until Sunday, so it looked like any thunderstorm development would probably be later in the day and isolated.

As it worked out the weather did cooperate. The flow of moisture into the area was delayed, and except for some clouds off to the east and southeast, it was another blue skies, sunshine and short-sleeves Sierra day.

Why do I like this run so much?

– It’s incredibly scenic. You run along high mountain lakes and meadows, in glaciated canyons, and over high passes.

– It has long runnable stretches. The longest is from New Army Pass back to the car, but there is also good running on the Pacific Crest Trail west of the crest, and as you leave Horseshoe Meadows at the beginning of the run.

– It is cool on a hot summer’s day. As long as you have extra layers in your pack, and pick a good day, the run can often be done in shorts and short-sleeves.

– It crosses the Sierra crest twice, at Cottonwood Pass (11,160′) and New Army Pass (12,300′). New Army Pass is the third highest Sierra pass crossed by a major trail, and is a spectacular vantage point.

– It is the closest 20+ mile run to Los Angeles that is almost entirely above 10,000′ and climbs to over 12,000′. All 21 miles of the run are higher than Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′). About 19 miles are higher than Mt. Baldy (10,064′); about 17 miles are higher than Mt. San Jacinto (10,834′); and about 3 miles higher than Mt. San Gorgonio (11,499′).

– There is a moderate amount of elevation gain — approximately 3500′.

– Except for one key turn off the PCT that connects to the Rock Creek Trail, the route-finding is relatively straightforward. If you miss that turn you’re going to be doing a much longer run. Take a map!

– Runs through forests of gnarled southern foxtail pines – a close relative of the bristlecone pine. Some of the trees may be a 1000 years old. Some of the dead trunks at higher elevation are several thousand years old and have been studied to see how the tree line has changed in the Sierra.

– The route is a loop. I’ve done it both directions and prefer doing it clockwise — going first over Cottonwood Pass, and then New Army Pass.

– Snow often persists near New Army Pass well into Summer and small, shaded patches may last through Fall. While it’s fun to see a huge cornice of snow in July, it can also be a problem. If you don’t have mountaineering experience be sure the trail over New Army Pass is clear before doing this loop. Don’t force the issue. The pass is at about mile 12.5. If you turn around at the pass and reverse the route you’ll be doing a 25 mile run instead of 21.

– Includes a 5 mile segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s always fun to do another segment of the PCT!

– The drive up the switchbacks on Horseshoe Meadows Road is nearly as exciting and scenic as the run.

– Can check the weather on a web cam. Olancha Peak is on the right and New Army Pass and Mt. Langley on the left.

– Can check the temperature and snowpack at 10150′ using the Cottonwood Lakes snow sensor.

Additional details, an interactive Google Earth view, and more photos can be found in the post Cottonwood Pass – New Army Pass Loop 2011 and related posts.

Whiskey Flat Trail Burger & Double Burger Run 2012

Aid station near Corral Creek

Was that rain I heard outside of the motel? Bleary-eyed, I grabbed my phone and checked the current weather radar. If it wasn’t raining, it would be soon. The radar showed an elongated patchwork of lime green blotches, sprinkled with yellow, approaching the blue dot marking the room in Kernville, California.

It looked like the front was going to pass through a bit earlier than forecast — right about the time we would be starting the 50K. The good news was there didn’t appear to be a lot of shower activity behind the front. Whether that would be the case in the middle of the day remained to be seen.

The annual Run-4-A-Way Burger Run follows the 14.5 mile Whiskey Flat Trail from the Burlando Trailhead in Kernville up the Kern River to Johnny McNally’s Fairview Lodge and Restaurant. This year R.D. Mike Lane had added a 50K. That’s what I was running. The “Double Burger” would do the trail both ways — from McNally’s down to Kernville and then back again.

It was rainy, dark and gloomy as we drove up Mountain 99 toward McNally’s. I like the rain as much as anyone in Southern California, but hoped the radar was right, and we wouldn’t have to deal with wet weather for the next several hours. I reminded myself that when the weather looks wet and rainy it’s (almost) always better on the trail than it looks like from the car.

Up at McNally’s Donni and Neil got us signed in, handed out the bib numbers and T-shirts, and got us started at 7:01. There were just a few of us running the 50K and the faster runners were soon out of sight. They would make it down to Burlando in less than 2.5 hours.

Whatever your pace, the running was spectacular! The light rain turned to showers after the first few miles. On the higher mountains snow could be seen along the margins of the clouds.  From time to time the sun would break through the clouds, illuminating the valley. At one point showers and sun mixed in dazzling display.

The Whiskey Flat Trail was in great shape. According to Stewards of the Sequoia Executive Director Chris Hogan, volunteers worked 500 hours to restore the trail — clearing brush, improving the tread, removing down trees, and installing water bars to control erosion. Their hard work, and the work of other volunteer trail maintenance groups, keeps our trails open and enjoyable.

Although I wasn’t particularly speedy, the run went well for me. I ran the race in Hoka One One Mafate 2s. The Mafate 2s are way different from the shoes I’ve been using in ultras. The Double Burger 50K is 100% single track and the shoes handled it well. Whether it was the shoes, the weather, my pace, or whatever I don’t know; but my legs and feet felt better (and I felt better) over the last several miles of the course than in any 50K I’ve done the past few years.

Many thanks to Mike Lane, Donni & Neil Higgins, John Seals & Lisa Ross, McNally’s, all the volunteers, and all of the hikers & runners for a great event! Here’s an interactive Cesium browser View of the Burger Run course and an elevation profile generated in SportTracks.

Related post: Whiskey Flat Trail Burger Run 2011

Here are a few additional photos from the run. Click for a larger image:

Whiskey Flat Trailhead

Sun Shower

Granite Slabs


Aid Station

View Downriver

Cottonwood – Army Pass Loop

Top of Army Pass

Near the Top of Army Pass

This loop is a variation of the Cottonwood Pass – New Army Pass loop. Starting and ending at Horseshoe Meadow, much of the route is the same except for the pass that is used to descend into Cottonwood Lakes Basin. The following map shows GPS tracks of the routes using Army Pass (red) and New Army Pass (blue).

From a trail running (without an ice axe) point of view the Army Pass option should only be considered after most of the Sierra snowpack has melted and the trail over the pass is free of snow. This can be very late in the Summer or in some Summers not at all. Low snowpack years are the best bet. Depending on the snowpack and time of year both Army Pass and New Army Pass can be impassable without special mountaineering equipment, skills and experience.

Built in 1892, the 120 year old trail over Army Pass is not maintained. It is most often used by those climbing Mt. Langley. Because of its northeasterly aspect there is often snow/ice on the trail and the area is prone to rockfall. The upper part of the trail follows a boulder and rubble-strewn shelf along a precipice. While the path is well-used, careful attention is required. Here’s a  photo looking up the path toward the pass and a similar photo from June 2007.

Once off the pass the running in upper Cottonwood Lakes basin is outstanding. The trail circles through the talus over to the north (far) side of Cottonwood Lake #4 — the lake immediately below the pass — and then continues across a land bridge between Lake #4 and #5 to the outlet of Lake #4. From here the trail drops down to Lake #3 and after about 2.5 miles of superb running meets the trail coming down from New Army Pass.

The approximate length of the loop is about 20 miles, with an elevation gain/loss of about 3250′. Here’s a Cesium browser View of my GPS track of the loop. Placemark locations are approximate.

Some related posts: Cottonwood Pass – New Army Pass Loop 2011, Mt. Langley in a Day from L.A.